Disneyland next Christmas? Make reservations now

In Vermont there are two events that happen every autumn without fail. One is that the leaves change color, and the other is that carloads of tourists pull up to that charming, well-known inn where they have always wanted to stay only to be told that there are no rooms available until October 1992.

While most travelers realize the importance of making reservations to visit popular places during peak seasons, they are often stunned to learn just how far in advance those reservations have to be made. More than one family trip to Disney World during the Christmas holiday season has fizzled because the planning began a mere three months in advance.

Partly because it is a family attraction and partly because it is in sunny Florida, Disney World draws its greatest number of visitors during the week between Christmas and New Year's. If you want to stay at any of the popular lodgings within the park, the Golf Resort, the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village, or the Lake Buena Vista Club, reservations for the holiday week should be made a year in advance. Even nearby accommodations outside the park should be secured six to nine months in advance.

Reservations for any of the Disney World resorts can be made by calling (305) 824-8000. When the Disney resorts are full, the reservations service will try to secure accommodations at other locations in the nearby area. Rooms also fill up fast during the summer and the Easter school vacation. If you want to avoid the crunch, January and February are ideal times to visit, as is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As anyone who has ever headed for Yellowstone in July can attest, the busy season for most national parks stretches from the end of June until Labor Day. At the most popular parks it takes some planning to avoid finding all campsites and lodge rooms taken when you drive past the gate.

While many parks have no formal reservation system, campsites can be secured through Ticketron outlets for eight national parks, Acadia, Shenandoah, Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Sequoia, King's Canyon, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The reservations can be made up to eight weeks in advance.

Most other national parks, including such heavily visited ones as Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, operate on a first-come, first-served basis. There are a few strategies campers can employ, however, to strengthen their chances of finding a desirable site. The Park Service suggests arriving during the middle of the week rather than on a weekend, the time when the great campsite search is at its peak. Early afternoon is also suggested, because it is often when departing campers have just packed up and left.

While summer is the most popular time to visit most national parks, an exception is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which reaches its peak season in October when the foliage and ethereal blue mists are in full glory. Only three of the park's campgrounds, Cade's Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont, have sites that can be reserved through Ticketron. All the rest are first-come, first-served.

Those travelers who prefer room service and a bed to campfires and sleeping bags will find that securing a room at hotels and lodges within the national parks often requires planning ahead. This is particularly true at Yosemite, where the Yosemite Lodge and the luxurious Ahwanee Hotel are nearly always full. Park officials advise that reservations made a year in advance are necessary if you plan to stay at either one during a summer weekend or the Christmas holidays. The alternative is to try between 7 to 10 days in advance of Christmas , the time when most cancellations occur. The number to call for reservations is (209) 372-4461.

To reserve a space at one of the Ahwanee Hotel's famous Bracebridge Dinners, three lavish Dickensian-style feasts served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you must request an application form from the hotel and mail it back before the Jan. 14 preceding the event. The 1,050 guests who will be granted a table setting are chosen by a lottery system.

A similar situation exists at the Grand Canyon, particularly for reserving rooms with or near a canyon view. Particularly popular is the El Tovar, the oldest and most luxurious of the Grand Canyon lodges, which has several suites with balconies overlooking the south rim. For any time during the summer season, reservations should be made at least four months in advance. Many accommodations with the park can be secured by contacting the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges Company, (602) 638-2361.

Although it is obvious that ski resorts do most of their business between November and April, it is less obvious that there are widely contrasting differences within that period. As a general rule, you can expect the Christmas and Easter vacation weeks to be the times that require the most planning ahead. January is a far less crowded month at many resorts than either February or early March.

At the ski resort town of Aspen, Colo., the Christmas crunch period stretches from Dec. 19 until Jan. 1. Almost as busy are the entire month of February and the first half of March. During the less busy month of January, a spokesman at Aspen Central Reservations says, rates for condominiums and hotel rooms are often 20 to 30 percent less than at the peak seasons. Reservations for the busier periods should be made at least six months in advance. The number to call at Aspen Central Reservations, which can arrange accommodations throughout the town, is (303) 925-9000.

Christmas and February are also the busiest times at the posh ski resort of Sun Valley, Idaho. Because family vacations are popular here, the three- or four-bedroom condominiums are the first to go. Sun Valley Resorts, which owns many types of lodging in the area, suggests that reservations for the peak periods be made at least six months in advance. However, they also say that rooms for the Christmas holidays can sometimes be secured in late November because of cancellations. The number to call is (800) 635-8261.

The popular vacation spots in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, like many other New England resorts, are the busiest in July, August, and October. Many travelers to the Berkshires head for the famous Red Lion Inn, a sprawling white landmark situated in the picture post card town of Stockbridge. For when the Boston Symphony Orchestra is playing at nearby Tanglewood and other cultural events are in full swing during July and August, rooms at the Red Lion have often been booked six months in advance. The same is true during weekends in October, when the hills have reached their autumn glory. A good place to call for information on obtaining tickets to events and room reservations is the Berkshire Hills Conference at (413) 443-9186. The reservations number for the Red Lion Inn is (413) 298-5545.

Just as much a New England tradition as the Red Lion is the Woodstock Inn, in the heart of some of Vermont's most picturesque covered bridge and fall foliage territory. Planning a visit to Woodstock and a stay at the inn can require reservations of a year in advance, especially for any time during the Christmas holidays or a weekend during summer or fall. The reservations number is (802) 457-1100.

At most golf or tennis resorts the peak period is usually any week when a special tournament is in progress. At Hilton Head Island in South Carolina the busiest week of the year is during the Sea Pines Heritage Golf Classic in late March (the week of March 25 this year). Securing a condominium during this event requires reservations made a year in advance. Hilton Head's Family Circle Magazine Cup tennis tournament in early April requires similar planning. Information on reservations can be had from the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce, (803) 785-3673.

Restored museum villages such as Williamsburg in Virginia and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts are often most visited during holiday periods, when they feature special festivities. At Williamsburg it is the Christmas season that draws the most tourists, many of whom want to stay at the charming Williamsburg Inn, where rooms must be reserved between a year and two years in advance. The other peak period occurs during the summer, a time when rooms at the inn should be reserved six months ahead. The number to call for accommodations in Williamsburg is (800) 446-8956.

Old Sturbridge Village is especially well known for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast served every year in the Village tavern. Although the dinner is served to 1,400 people at several sittings, it is often sold out four or five months in advance. The number to call for a reservation is (617) 347-3362.

Visiting a city during a well-known festival is almost a guarantee that accommodations will have been sold out weeks or months in advance of the event. Should you want to be in New Orleans during the famous Mardi Gras and wish to stay in a hotel room along the festival routes of Canal Street or St. Charles Avenue, you should make arrangements a year in advance. The weekend before Mardi Gras, always held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is when hotel rooms become most crowded.

In Nashville the most popular time to visit is during the city's week-long celebration of country music called Fan Fair, which is from June 7-13 this year. Accommodations in the city during this event should be secured six months in advance. The same amount of time is usually required for obtaining tickets to the Grand Ole Opry at any time of year. The number to call for Grand Ole Opry tickets is (615) 889-3063. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce number is (615) 259 -3900.

Charleston, S.C., draws its largest number of visitors during the Festival of Houses, a time when many of the gracious old homes are open to public view. It is usually scheduled for three weeks during late March and early April. Tickets to the event and accommodations should be secured at least three months in advance. The Historic Charleston Foundation, which sponsors the event, can be contacted at (803) 723-1623.

If there is a rule of thumb to follow when planning a vacation, it is to do it far ahead. Chances are that if a particular time and place seem attractive to you, they do to others as well. And as for making reservations, it may be later, much later, than you think.

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